In this interview with Daily Trust, a former governor of Enugu State and an ex-national chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, spoke on the President Muhammadu Buhari administration so far, the new wave of agitation for Biafra by groups from a section of the country, and other important national issues. Excerpts:
It is six months into the administration of President Buhari. How would you assess his government so far?
The president came in with tremendous goodwill. It is not easy in the third world to have an opposition party defeat an incumbent administration, but it happened in our country. For President Buhari to have done that, it means he has a measure of the goodwill. Secondly, I believe that what he promised our people was timely. However, I must say that the Buhari government has reached a point of impunity. A lot of this is shown in the investigations that are going on. He promised to fight corruption and bring sanity to government expenditures. In as much as this is good, I am one of those who believe that no Nigerian should go to bed hungry. This is because this country has enough resources to feed us and provide an enabling environment for us to achieve our God-given talents. When the country’s resources are plundered, as done by previous administrations, it becomes difficult for Nigerians to develop their potentials and reach their goals. The truth is that people voted for Buhari because he promised to fight corruption. That was the credential he came on board with. But it is not something that can be achieved overnight. The problem is that we have suffered so long that Nigerians are now impatient. They want the problems in the country to be fixed immediately, but government doesn’t work like that. It takes time for policies to be formulated and implemented. I plead with Nigerians to give the president time. I believe he has brought in a solid team of ministers to help him achieve his aims. This is the time that work started. Let’s pray for him, wish him the best and hope that he would be able to fulfill those promises he made to us.
There is the need to transform the education sector. Are you impressed with budgetary allocations to the sector?
There are certain things I call tangible and intangible achievements. Tangible achievements refer to buildings and other monuments, while intangible achievements refer to education and health. When someone is healthy, we take it for granted, but you see the difference when you become sick. Likewise, when someone is an illiterate and cannot even capture his own existence, let alone take a decision for his future, the difference between him and an animal moving around in the compound is not much. Education is knowledge and wealth. It is the greatest investment any government can give to the people. When you empower the people, they will be able to conquer the world. Therefore, anything we invest in education is not a waste. I think states and the federal government should increase the percentage of budgets that go into education and health. If we have educated and healthy people, the job of government will be easier. The truth is that when government is trying to attend to millions of poor uneducated people, resources can never be enough.
Do you think President Buhari should ignore the reports and recommendations of the National Conference, bearing in mind that it was not conducted by the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led federal government?
I don’t think that way. The conference has drawn a roadmap that can help us a lot. Agitations by the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) and the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), as well as Boko Haram, will not be there if the recommendations of the conference were implemented. We are supposed to be a federation, but we are actually in a unitary government, operated as if we were in the military barracks made up of a commander-in-chief and foot soldiers. In the United States of America, there is a federation of largely independent states, and every state is struggling to be the best. The federating states contribute whatever the central government needs to function.
We made more strides in the First Republic because we operated that way. Unfortunately, today, we are still struggling to maintain what Tafawa Balewa, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Dr Michael Okpara achieved. I remember that when I was the governor of Enugu State, it took me 20 months just to re-activate existing industries. I did not build one. These days, you find out that people just sit down and wait for whatever they can get from the federal allocation. Only few states can boast of internally generated revenues. Why can’t we tap our God-given mineral resources in this country? We have a lot of wealth-generating resources, but we cannot tap them. If we task the federating units to be on their own, they will look inwards. But as long as they look at the federal government as Father Christmas, we will remain where we are. Unfortunately, the price of crude oil is falling because more countries are producing. Nigeria is looking for a market for its oil. This is the best time to think about true federalism so that individual states can stand on their own.
What is your take on the agitation for Biafra?
Well, they have a grievance; my advice for them is that they should not be violent. Also, the federal government should listen to their grievances. At a point, we felt the Niger Delta problem was impossible, that it was a no-go-area. We lost a lot of oil revenue while oil workers were kidnapped and killed. But the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua came, and like magic, he solved the problem. He never sent soldiers to go and kill the people; he listened to them. Since then, we have been having peace in the Niger Delta. Probably, if there was a timely intervention in the North-East, Book Haram wouldn’t have been what it is today. They were allowed to gather momentum. Today, the group is a major problem, not only to Nigeria but our neighbouring countries. Right now, if there is intervention in the South-East, it will save the day. I don’t think these things should be swept under the carpet. Whatever are the grievances of the young men, government should not send troops to kill them. If you dialogue with them, you would find out that it is easy to solve their agitation. So, the federal government should listen to them.
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